At The Fountain
Churashom was well concealed behind the trees north of the roaring geyser, his tribe was moving southward again and he was sent to scout ahead because of the water spout. The violent earthquake from a few months past had ripped open the ground, freeing the ferocious water from deep below and it gushed wildly high into the sky. The whole area around the spout was sparkling as the sun glinted off the drops of water and a giant arc of colors encircled the rocks around the geyser.
Churashom allowed his eyes to take in the spectacle of beauty for several long moments before moving in for a close look. He was just about to step out of the trees when the girl came over the rocks from the south and he froze back in his place. He had never seen a person such as that before, with her long pure white hair and pale skin, but Churashom knew about Wanderers from the stories. He watched her scramble over the rocks around the perimeter of the geyser and saw the look of joy on the girl’s face.
He waited for the other Wanderers to show themselves, it was well known that the pale ice people always traveled in family groups just like his own. But no one else came over the rocks and the girl never looked back or called out. Instead Churashom watched as she removed the badly patched tunic from her body and stepped joyfully into the water. Hearing the stories about the White Wanderers did not do them justice, this girl had skin the color of milk and Churashom slowly moved out of his hiding spot to see if she really had eyes the color of the sky.
He did not try to hide himself as he skirted the trees, but her back was to Churashom as she danced in the misty drops of water and she could not hear him over the roar of the geyser. His hails to the girl went unanswered as he moved closer, but another sound caught Churashom’s ears and he went still. The Wanderer must have heard it too because her head turned back in the direction of the rocks she had come from and called out.
Churashom knew that sound was not the sound of people, that was danger coming right towards the girl as a golden brown bear loped out of the rocks. Bears were frightening opponents, this one still looked young, but he was still of a size to kill both Churashom and the Wanderer easily. His mind raced as he tried to think of a way to save the girl, but the bear was walking right toward her and she was not moving. Perhaps she was paralyzed with fear and Churashom wanted to protect her, to prove himself to this lonely Wanderer so she might consider him to be a worthy mate.
The girl stopped dancing but not smiling and amazingly turned to hold her arms open wide for the bear. Churashom was stock-still, he had never seen anything like it, no one had ever even heard of such a thing; because the bear did not charge the Wanderer at all.
It did not snarl; it did not rear up on its legs and flash its deadly claws, it simply walked to the girl shaking water from its shaggy head while she laughed. The girl resumed her dance then, Churashom could even detect a song over the roar of the water; she jumped and stepped all around the bear, reaching out to stroke its body with long arms.
This was no mere girl, not just a stray Wanderer that had crossed Churashom’s path, anyone who walked with a bear must be a very powerful shaman too. She was a sign from the gods, a rare gift that Churashom wanted for himself. Such a woman could not be treated with disrespect and cowardice is not the trait of a worthy mate so, even though his heart was pounding in fear of the bear, Churashom stepped into the water too.
The water was freezing cold but Zurak didn’t notice, she was so overcome with joy at finally reaching the spout that all she could do was dance in the sparkling spray. Even Taeyo seemed happy, the bear’s fur was soaked with water and he kept shaking it off in a way that looked like he was dancing too. Suddenly, Taeyo went still and Zurak heard the low growl that meant danger was nearby, Zurak realized that she had left her staff by the rocks and began to pray as she turned around.
Taeyo was not moving, but his posture was ready to charge as threatening growls simmered in the bear’s belly. The man was just standing in the spray of the geyser on the other side but not moving towards them; he was not moving at all. He had jet black hair and coppery skin just like the other people Zurak’s family had met as they traveled down the
. Golden Land
Zurak and the man just stood and stared at each other for several long moments before the man put his hands up in a gesture of greeting. This was the first human contact Zurak had since the night of the shipwreck and she was overcome with feelings of joy, fear and relief. She wanted to run to that man, to feel his skin and hear his voice; Zurak wanted proof that he was real.
Taeyo did not need convincing and his ever loudening growls broke Zurak from her stasis. It was clear to Zurak that the man was afraid of Taeyo, but he did not flinch nor did he move for a weapon. He just stood there with his hand up; Zurak was impressed with his bravery although Taeyo was not. But she had not wandered so far by herself just to allow her little brother to eat the only other person Zurak had seen in years.
Even though she knew that Taeyo was a bear, Zurak hoped against hope that she could reason with him. Very carefully, very slowly, Zurak placed one hand lightly against Taeyo’s fur and whispered, “Please.”